heirloom

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

Heirloom vs. Hybrid

By Jim Hole

The tomato is the most popular garden vegetable just about everywhere. It can easily be grown organically and there are a huge number of outstanding varieties available. Here is what you need to know to grow juicy, delicious and nutritious tomatoes.

Heirlooms or hybrids?

I love the names of heirloom tomatoes. Mortgage Lifter, for example, conjures up such great imagery. But do awesome sounding heirloom names translate into awesome tasting fruit or are hybrid tomatoes really the best choice for our gardens? To answer that question, it helps to understand what the terms heirloom and hybrid really mean.

The way I like to think about the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes is that heirlooms arose primarily through serendipity whereas hybrids arose by calculated design.

With respect to heirloom varieties the story usually goes something like this. Historically, families - or even entire communities - would grow several tomatoes in their fields or gardens and then collect the seed in the fall to provide seed to sow for the following year. Since all tomato varieties are primarily self-pollinated, the fall harvested tomato seed collected from a specific variety would be pretty much be identical to the plant from which it was harvested. But, occasionally, a tomato might be cross-pollinated by bees, as the pollen was moved from the flower of one variety to the flower of another. The resulting new variety of tomato grown from that cross was often nothing spectacular but, occasionally, a new outstanding variety would  emerge and become a cherished variety that was handed down from generation to generation. Thus a new heirloom was born.

Now, we can’t give all of the credit to the bees for great heirlooms. Some heirloom enthusiasts developed a love of the delicate and tedious task of ‘crossing’ one tomato variety with another in pursuit of the world’s next great heirloom. Today, many of our very best heirloom varieties were the result of passionate, dedicated and patient amateur breeders who crossed many varieties in their gardens before finally creating a new, delicious heirloom.

Hybrids on the other hand, are more like a designer tomato. The journey developing hybrids is one that is more purposeful and carried out by breeders who are specially trained in plant genetics. They have very specific goals in mind like breeding a variety that is resistant to a particular disease or one that has superior storage qualities. If they are successful – which often takes many years of painstaking work - the resulting hybrid tomato will express those traits and still be flavourful. 

What should you do?

Having spoken with many tomato aficionados over the years, the overwhelming majority of gardeners just want to plant great-tasting tomato varieties regardless of whether they are heirlooms or hybrids. Thankfully, there are truly outstanding tomatoes in each category.

When it comes to juicy, meaty, true tomato flavour, I’m a huge fan of heirloom tomatoes like Mortgage Lifter and Stupice. If you have a sunny spot on your deck or in your garden, you should try them.

On the other hand, there are some incredible hybrid tomatoes, particularly in the cherry category. Minimato is a small hybrid bush tomato that I like to call bulletproof. If you plunk it in any old pot, give it water and a bit of fertilizer, it will reward you with fruit all season long

Sungold is another great one. It was one of my Mom’s favourites because it is tasty, sweet and it grows like a weed. The biggest challenge with Sungold is that it is so prolific you’ll need to create some new recipes to deal with the onslaught of fruit!

So let’s go back to the heirloom versus hybrid debate. Frankly, I’ve never felt the two were diametrically opposed. I’ve grown all kinds of heirloom and hybrid varieties over the years and both categories yield some fantastic fruit and both types deserve their place in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lettuce Grow

Have you ever tasted lettuce fresh from the garden? I mean really fresh. Picked less than 30 minutes ago? The difference in taste is incredible! You will never settle for shop lettuce again after you tasted a truly fresh garden lettuce.

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Well lucky for you, lettuce greens are so easy to grow (indoors now, outdoors later), they grow so fast, they’re so nutritious and so delicious, and growing them is a breeze. If you aren't already planning on planting lettuce, here are a few reasons why you ought to:

Not everyone has a large garden space, but the great thing about lettuce is that it’s a fantastic vegetable for container planting. With enough water, lettuce will thrive in trays as shallow as 4” and pots or containers of any kind. And I do mean any kind. Your grandmother had it figured out when she used those old dresser drawers to plant her lettuce in!

The trick is not to go overboard. The biggest mistake home gardeners make when planting lettuce is planting one big patch at the beginning of summer. Five weeks later they’re swimming in lettuce. I’m sure you love salad as much as the next person, but trust me on this one: The key is planting a small patch where you have a gap in the garden every 2-3 weeks instead. That will give you a steady (and manageable) supply through the summer.

Lettuce is one speedy vegetable. It goes from seed to baby greens in 4 to 6 weeks and from seed to salad bowl in 6-8 weeks. Because it grows so quickly, lettuce is a great short season vegetable to interplant with other long season vegetables such as peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, or eggplants.

With dozens of different lettuce varieties, each with its own unique colour, texture and flavour, home gardeners have some serious choice. Here are a few interesting varieties you might enjoy:

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Lettuce - Sea of Red – Sea of Red lettuce is a perfect red-wine contrast to your otherwise very green salad. With open loose heads of sword-shaped leaves that colour up to a beautiful and amazingly deep mahogany-red, this lettuce also makes a great addition to planters with ornamentals. And, unlike other red lettuces that fade in the sun, Sea of Red’s colour just becomes more intense.

Harvesting the entire head of Sea of Red lettuce is fine, however if you snip off the young lettuce leaves about ten centimeters above ground instead, it will vigorously re-sprout and provide several more harvests.

Since the leaves grow upright, it makes growing the lettuces tightly together possible. This creates the appearance of a sea of red!


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Lettuce - Garden Babies Butterhead – This lettuce is a salad lover’s fantasy: buttery texture and an outstanding sweet taste. But more than that, they are a gardener’s dream. This lettuce is perfect looking!

Garden Babies were originally developed for the Japanese luxury market, where a premium is put on flavour and quality. The cute perfectly formed little butterhead rosettes are ideal for growing in containers. They are slow to bolt, heat tolerant, and make twelve to fifteen centimeter heads at maturity.

This lettuce is perfect for individual servings, which makes them as much fun to eat as they are to grow!


Drunken-woman-lettuce-Edmonton-st-albert

Lettuce - Drunken Woman  The honest truth is I chose this variety because I was tickled by the name. Who could resist having a “Drunken Woman Fringed Headed” in their garden?

The best guess is that this fabulous lettuce’s name refers to its frizzy headed look. The Drunken Woman lettuce boasts emerald green leaves tipped in mahogany red.

Unlike the Butterhead varieties this isn't a melt-in-your-mouth type lettuce. It’s heavy on the crunch! With a nuttier than buttery flavour, Drunken Woman is the perfect vehicle for any number of vinaigrettes or toppings.

Enjoy, and may your salads never be boring again!